David Austen

Untitled (Certain Things) 14.3.96


Not on display

David Austen born 1960
Gouche on paper
Support: 298 × 222 mm
Purchased with funds provided by The Ampersand Foundation in memory of Michael Stanley 2013


Untitled (Certain Things) 14.3.96 1996 is a gouache on paper depicting a grid of blue squares, resembling coloured tiles or mosaics, headed by a typewritten text that is taken from the novel The Paperboy (1995) by the American writer Pete Dexter. The text reads: ‘To see certain things, you have to be lying on your back with tears in your eyes and a scalding potato in your mouth. / It’s possible, I think, that you have to be hurt to see anything at all. / There are no intact men.’ The title of Austen’s work quotes from this text as well as giving the date he made the gouache as 14 March 1996. This is one of a series of watercolours and gouaches that Austen made in the mid-1990s in which he began to incorporate text typed on an old manual typewriter, combined with an abstract painted pattern (see also Untitled [Jean Vigo] 14.3.96 1996 [Tate T13903], made on the same day in March 1996).

In such works neither the image nor the text illustrates the other; their association is more elusive. The artist often chooses beautifully descriptive passages that have in common the ability to conjure up powerful images and that are drawn from a range of literary sources – from the writing of French polymath Boris Vian to the poems of William Butler Yeats. The images provide a counterpoint to the texts and, whilst they appear to bear no obvious relationship to the content of the written passages, the reading of one is guided by the reading of the other. The gap between the imagery suggested by the text and the actual painted image enhances the lyrical nature of the compositions, which often carry a melancholic quality typical of much of the artist’s work.

Urban loneliness, disturbing dreams, death and bleak, existential despair are predominating themes in Austen’s work, which he combines with a visual language that carries a strongly hand-crafted and elemental sense concerned with the mechanics and dynamics of expression, representation and the way images are read. Much of the artist’s source material is derived from observations of the everyday world around him: a chance remark, a book cover, crime thrillers or a newspaper headline that, removed from its original context, is invested with new meaning. Austen often changes from one media to another and his approaches to his subject matter vary accordingly. However, these common concerns run through different strands of his practice, establishing a strong relationship between the themes and forms explored in his works on paper and his large-scale oil paintings as well as his photographs and films.

Further reading
David Austen: Paintings and Works on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Mead Gallery, Warwick Art Centre, Coventry, September–October 1997.
David Austen, exhibition catalogue, Milton Keynes Gallery, February–March 2007.
David Austen: End of Love, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Oxford, December 2010–February 2011.

Carmen Juliá
August 2013

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